Meditation is an age-old system for resolving the essential spiritual challenges of living a life in a human body. Meditation has been used for thousands of years by every religious tradition to create life-sustaining rhythms and give people a way of finding peace, balance, compassion and a sense of morality.
Ancient Taoists had a unique perspective on meditation that is particularly relevant in the modern computer age where millions of inputs constantly bombard us and diminish our capacity to integrate the experiences of our life.
This serie of articles provides some background information on Taoism and the meditation system the Taoists created.
From the Taoist perspective, our age’s spiritual dissonance is a result of a profound disconnection between our bodies, hearts and souls. The Taoist solution is to reconnect and integrate ourselves, both internally and with our environment.
Oral tradition maintains that Taoism came from the Kunlun Mountains of northern Tibet to China between 4,000-5,000 years ago. Taoism is associated with three prominent texts: the 4,000-year-old I Ching or Book of Changes; the writings of Chuang Tzu; and the Tao Te Ching, the second most translated book in the world, composed 2,500 years ago by Lao Tse. Of Taoism’s two major branches, the Fire (yang) and Water (yin) methods, most texts currently available in the West focus on the Fire traditions.
Within Taoism, there are two branches. The Chinese call them Fire and Water, or yang and yin.
The yang or Fire branch is a method of transformation. Through some act of conscious will or effort you seek to create the kind of mind you want. For example, if you have a tape in your head that says you are an utterly horrible person, then you might want to replace it with a tape that says you are really cool. Likewise, if you have a tape in your head that says you will never be okay, then you want to replace it with a tape that says you are okay now and will be forever. This is a path of transformation. The Fire approach to meditation essentially seeks to create some sort of hypnotic state, typically through the use of visualizations, which you may later choose to break down to free yourself from your conditioning. This is also the case in Tibetan buddhism, Vayrayana, which is somewhat more known in the West.
The yin or Water method aims to release everything that is not real, or relative, so all that remains is what is real, or constant, through whatever circumstances or changes that may occur. If you think you are a terrible person or unworthy of life, you want to have the intent to release that belief. You do this for any belief that prevents you from coming back to your core, where you can be fully awake. When people are awake they are not only comfortable with themselves but they are also happy with existence and the universe.
Many Westerners are under the mistaken impression that large numbers of Chinese are Taoists. In China, it is commonly held, however, that practicing Taoists are less than one percent of their country’s population. Most Taoist practices in modern China are commingled with facets of Buddhism and folk religion even though Buddhist and Taoist ways of looking at the same phenomena are often somewhat different.
Even still, a pure and distinct Taoist tradition continues to thrive.
Taoists have never really pushed to gain followers of their philosophy or religion. More often than not in Chinese history, they have actively discouraged membership or have gone underground. The last time the Taoists were really public and had patronage of the ruling class was during the Tang dynasty (618-907 A.D.). This period is considered by many historians to be China’s most creative.
Whether religions are exoteric (for everyone) or esoteric (for a select few) in nature, most will try to build as large an empire as possible when given the opportunity. Generally, they strive for cohesive influence over great numbers. Witness the giants: Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism. The major branches of Taoism have never demonstrated any particular desire to build theocratic empires using meditation or belief systems.
The Taoist tradition has always been essentially what could be called mystical rather than organizational. Practitioners of Taoism have been primarily focused on exploring the quintessential spiritual nature of human beings, including people’s relationship with their inner selves and to the environment and universe. Taoists consider almost everything that happens in the external world (e.g., beliefs, events, opinions, hopes, fears) to be what they refer to as “red dust” or that which stays for awhile and goes as the wind blows.
The main Taoist work, the classic I Ching or Book of Changes attempts to comprehend change and changelessness from many different viewpoints. Through 64 systematically presented real-life situations called hexagrams, the I Ching teaches that everything in the world is in continual flux. Through meditation, a Taoist aims to discover that which never changes and is always present. Hexagrams, like the trigrams that combine to form them, are concerned with change and with the empty space in the midst of that which is changeless, the Tao.